While on a weekend away in Norfolk Neil Hennessy-Vass discovers a restaurant that delivers on many different levels
We dined in the ‘Elk Room’. Its provenance, a 10,000-year-old elk’s head above the fireplace, and what a fireplace. It’s where the meat is cooked over an open wood fire. Like a civilised medieval banqueting hall where you don’t have to eat with your fingers (but you could if you wanted to) this part of the Gunton Arms plays perfectly into the ‘I want good food, not messed around with food and I want it in a spectacular room’ vibe. It’s a decadent almost delinquent way to spend a Friday afternoon and I recommend it highly.
The first thing you need to know about The Gunton Arms is it’s in the middle of nowhere, well for a Londoner anyway. A signpost on the main road, blink and you’ll miss it kind of place. It’s a local secret that a few well versed with the likes of Mark Hix (from where the proprietors worked) have grown fond of the acreage they offer here with their 16 rooms (come for the weekend… breakfasts are just as good as lunch or dinner I’m told).
Food wise you can’t go wrong here. I had a sizeable serving of in-house oak and applewood smoked salmon and thank the Lord it was thick sliced – a joy. Other highlights included a neat little saffron aioli that partnered the crab and prawn and a tasty, chewy pork belly with crackling on the side for the hardcore.
Laura our server (definitely not a medieval wench) couldn’t have been more patient as we pondered the menu and opted for ‘Beef for sharing”. This is an event and not for the vaguely hungry – it’s a lot. We were a party of three and left some as we couldn’t manage it. It’s cooked before your eyes on the open fire Fred Flintstone style. The Aberdeen Angus was superb, moist, tasty, juicy and dripping with fat. The Béarnaise on the side was great but barely necessary.
The fire crackled, it slowly got darker outside and the scrubbed tables and mismatched chairs all seemed the same in the low light. This is a mood place, with great care taken to make it all look easy. And talking of looking there are many modern art pieces on show, A Gilbert and George here, a Bailey there, an Emin above that door… it just goes on. Some of it very good, pertinent and witty some not for me but hey that’s art.
A special mention in dispatches must be made of the cauliflower cheese. Simply the best I’ve ever had. Why? Well, I tried to work it out and I think there were two reasons, firstly the florets were small or broken down to a reduced size but still remained crisp and secondly the cheese, oh that cheese, it was under the grill until it was brown and crispy and gooey and just gorgeous. I’m sure it was a good cheese to start with but when The Gunton Arms had finished with it was epic.
This place delivered on so many levels it’s hard to count them. The puds were great too, choc mousse to die for looked like a mountain range with shards of dark chocolate providing the detail. Cheesecake (what was I thinking after all that meat) with ginger was a good twist on an old classic.
The menu isn’t too long, the wine reasonable (they serve it by the carafe as well so you can cut down a bit without feeling left out of the ‘only available in a bottle’ brigade). My only regret? That we hadn’t booked for a few days. A perfect modern country dining experience bar none.
The Gunton Arms
Tel: 01263 832010